Carlos Roberto Moreno (born November 4, 1948) is a Mexican-American jurist who is the former United States Ambassador to Belize. Following his retirement from the Supreme Court of California in 2011, Moreno was counsel with the California-based law firm Irell & Manella. Moreno was considered to be a leading candidate to replace retiring Justice David Souter on the United States Supreme Court.
When he was sworn in as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of California in 2001, Justice Carlos Moreno chose to relinquish his lifetime seat on the United States District Court where he had presided over a broad range of complex civil and criminal matters since his appointment in 1998 by President Bill Clinton.
As an Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court, Justice Moreno reviewed on appeal a wide range of civil and criminal cases, which have substantial state and federal constitutional implications. With his appointment to the Supreme Court of California, he became only the third judge of Hispanic heritage to serve in the Court's nearly 150-year history, and the first in more than a decade.
Justice Moreno's service in the judiciary began with his appointment in 1986 to the Municipal Court, Compton Judicial District, by Governor George Deukmejian. In that capacity, he adjudicated criminal matters, with an emphasis on serious felony offenses, and supervised the court's civil department until 1993, when Governor Pete Wilson elevated him to the Los Angeles County Superior Court, where he presided over felony trials.
Moreno is the son of a Mexican immigrant mother who arrived in the country with few skills and no resources after the death of his father. He grew up in a home where Spanish was the first language and where no family member had an education beyond high school. In a recent speech at the UC Davis School of Law (King Hall), he told students, "I never in my wildest dreams thought that I could become one of seven judges on the highest court in the state. I want to emphasize to you the idea that no matter what your dreams may be, you can follow them."
A native of Los Angeles, Justice Moreno grew up in a small community in Elysian Park known as Solano Canyon. He attended local public schools (such as Solano Elementary) before going east to Yale University, from which he graduated in 1970. He realized early in his education that he had a skill which enabled him to navigate through complex procedures as he assisted various relatives in responding to requests for additional information regarding insurance claims and applications for benefits. He was later drawn to the study of law so that he could help others on a larger scale and with a broader range of issues.
Moreno received his Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Yale University in 1970 and his Juris Doctor from Stanford Law School in 1975. After graduating from Stanford Law School and being admitted to the Bar in 1975, he served in the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office. As Deputy City Attorney, he prosecuted criminal and civil consumer protection cases, and handled politically sensitive and legislative matters for the City Attorney. In 1979, he joined the firm of Mori & Ota (which became part of Kelley Drye & Warren) representing the firm's business clients in its general commercial litigation practice.
In 1986, Governor George Deukmejian appointed Moreno to the criminal court in Compton. In 1993, Governor Pete Wilson appointed him to the Superior Court of Los Angeles County.
Moreno was nominated by President Bill Clinton on July 31, 1997, to a seat on the United States District Court for the Central District of California vacated by Judge Robert Mitsuhiro Takasugi. He was confirmed by the Senate on February 3, 1998, and received commission on February 4, 1998. His service terminated on October 18, 2001, due to resignation.
Moreno was appointed to the Supreme Court of California following his nomination by Governor Gray Davis. In November 2002, California voters confirmed Justice Moreno for the remainder of the term of his deceased predecessor, Justice Stanley Mosk. In 2010, California voters confirmed Justice Moreno to a full 12-year term.
On January 6, 2011, Justice Moreno announced his intention to retire from the California Supreme Court effective February 28, 2011.
Justice Moreno is the former president of the Mexican American Bar Association. He has been a member of the California Judges Association, the Presiding Judges Association and the Municipal Court Judges Association of Los Angeles County and was also the president of the Yale Club of Southern California, and a member of the Stanford University Law School Board of Visitors. He currently serves as a director of the Arroyo Vista Family Health Center and the Western Justice Center Foundation.
Justice Moreno was honored with the Criminal Justice Superior Court Judge of the Year Award in 1997, from the Los Angeles County Bar Association, and was presented with the "For God, For Country, and For Yale" Award in 2001, recognizing him as a distinguished alumnus of Yale University. He also received an honorary degree from Southwestern University School of Law in May 2002 for his devotion to the justice system, young people and the community.In 2009, he was awarded the Yale Medal, which "is the highest award presented by the Association of Yale Alumni and is conferred solely to recognize and honor outstanding individual service to the University."
On May 13, 2009, the Associated Press reported that President Barack Obama was considering Moreno, among others, for possible appointment to the United States Supreme Court. Despite the potential nomination, he released a controversial dissent in Strauss v. Horton the same day President Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor.
On July 8, 2013, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Moreno to be United States Ambassador to Belize. On July 9, 2013, Obama formally nominated Moreno to the post. On Wednesday, May 14, 2014, the United States Senate confirmed Moreno to his ambassadorship by voice vote. Moreno arrived in Belize on June 21, 2014 and presented his credentials to Governor General Sir Colville Young on June 24, 2014.